Degenkolb, Gaviria and Sagan are Milan-San Remo favourites, says Pozzato

Former winner still dreaming of a second success on Via Roma

A lot has happened in the world of cycling since a fresh-faced Pippo Pozzato raised his arms in triumph to conclude the 2006 Milan-San Remo.

Since his breakout victory, Pozzato has arguably failed to reach the heights that many expected of him, but the 35-year-old has since finished inside the top-10 on four occasions. He was the best placed Italian at La Classicissima last year, 12 months on Pozzato is once again aiming for success at the race which he has dreamed about since childhood.

"The goal for me is San Remo for sure. It is the best race for me and for the team. It is the most important race we do at the start of the season," Pozzato told Cyclingnews and Eurosport in a recent interview.

"The legs are fine, but in the last five or six years it has become difficult to win because there are too many sprinters in the final. Last year, I stayed in the front and finish eighth after the crash in front of me. Every year I try."

In 2017, Pozzato isn't likely to be on too many people's list of favourites, but the Wilier Triestina rider is one of five former winners set to line out on Saturday, and remains the last Italian winner of the race. However, he is still aiming for a top result in what could be his final Milan-San Remo appearance and 49th career monument.

"I think there are too many difficulties because of the very fast sprinters in the final. When I won, I was not the favourite. I attacked in the last 600 metres, and it was possible to finish with the victory," he recalled. "This year, when you see the opportunity it is important to attack and have good legs and lots of luck."

Of the men to beat in 2017, Pozzato tips the 2015 champion John Degenkolb, world champion Peter Sagan and Fernando Gaviria as the trio to beat due to their versatile characteristics.

"They are the three strongest riders because they can finish with a sprint, with a small group and three riders with so many possibilities," he said. "An attack in the final? Peter is capable and Gaviria also. Degenkolb also is very strong. I very much like Sagan, and Degenkolb is now very much one of the big riders for the classics."

Should Pozzato once again raise his arms in triumph, he would break Gino Bartali's record of 11 years between his first and last victory at the Italian monument.

Boonen connection

Teammates at Quick-Step in 2005 and 2006, Pozzato and Tom Boonen both helped the other to wins in the monuments. Boonen for Pozzato at Milan-San Remo and Pozzato for Boonen at the 2005 and 2006 Tour of Flanders, and 2005 Paris-Roubaix. The duo has already raced against each other this season at Vuelta a San Juan and the Tour of Oman ahead of their final appearance together at Milan-San Remo with Boonen part of an intimidating Quick-Step Floors line up.

They will also race the Tour of Flanders against each other for one final time before Boonen retires the following week at Paris-Roubaix. Over the last decade, Pozzato has come up second best to Boonen and the recently retired Fabian Cancellara on numerous occasion. Rather than bemoan his luck and wish to be born in another generation, Pozzato explains that instead, he prefers to reflect on the privilege of being able to ride alongside the multiple monument winners.

"For sure, Tom is a big, big champion and one of the best five riders in the history of the classics," he said, making sure to add that he has received an invite to Boonen's April 29 farewell party.

"I like this because they are two of the biggest riders in the history of the classics. Without Tom, I would have won Roubaix, Flanders, and one more San Remo. But this is cycling, and I prefer second to the big champion. When you win and second is not a big rider, I don't like this."

When pressed on his most memorable moment alongside Boonen, Pozzato was quick to reply.

"When I won San Remo, he was very happy for me," he said. "But I think my best memory is Tour of Flanders in 2006 when he won after I worked in the last 40km at the front of the group. I think this is when I had the best legs at Flanders to go for the win but for the team, the best solution was for us to all work for Tom, because he was the best Belgian rider in 2006, in a Belgian team."

With Cancellara hanging up his wheels, Boonen not racing beyond April, and Pozzato has said that he will retire at season's end it marks the end of an era for the classics. Although, Pozzato has since hinted at one more season in the peloton for a final hurrah and bid for a second monument.

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